The NBA Finals are getting underway in Miami, but another highly anticipated tournament recently came to Kandahar, Afghanistan. This March, participants in Clear Path International (CPI) and the Afghan Amputee Bicyclists for Rehabilitation and Recreation's wheelchair basketball league played for a championship of their own. With funding from the State Department's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (WRA), the two organizations have teamed up to give survivors of landmines and explosive remnants of war "hope and confidence," while raising public awareness about the "ultimate potential of the players, despite their disabilities."
With U.S. support, Clear Path International procured enough specialized wheelchairs to field multiple three-player teams from Kandahar City, Nangarhar, and Jalalabad. The players work with dedicated coaches several times a week to master skills and build teamwork. This also increases the feeling of inclusion and self-confidence of the survivors that can help heal the hidden wounds from the social stigma of disability.
The teams played tournament exhibition games at Afghan high schools in front of 300 to 500 students. The games, combined with interactive crowd participation, aimed to promote social inclusion and awareness of persons with disabilities not only among the students, but in their communities. These exhibition games led up to a tournament in Kandahar City, in which all of the teams competed for the championship.
CPI surveyed the tournament attendees on their knowledge, attitude, and behavior towards the disabled. They will compare the data to baseline results obtained from residents of Kandahar, to gauge the impact of the event on public opinions. Surveys and programs thus far have shown a positive shift in attitudes towards the disabled which is especially significant among kids, many of whom have not encountered or thought about those disabled by landmines.
Despite ongoing demining efforts, Afghanistan retains one of the highest levels of landmine and unexploded ordinance (UXO) in the world after three decades of violent conflict. As of March 2012, the Mine Action Coordination Center of Afghanistan estimated that 5,931 hazardous areas remained, covering nearly 585 square kilometers. An estimated 80 percent of the affected areas are located in agricultural areas, a major problem when 70 percent of the Afghan population relies on agriculture to make a living. This poses a threat, not only to Afghan civilians, but also to political and military leaders, as insurgents often use landmines or UXO to build improvised explosive devices. In 2011, landmines or UXO killed or injured 372 Afghans, more than half of whom were children.
The United States leads the world in demining efforts and has spent over $2 billion to diminish the threat of landmines and explosive remnants of war in over 90 countries since 1993. Landmines and other UXO affect virtually every province in Afghanistan. Since 1997, the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM) and WRA have invested more than $265 million to help Afghanistan build its capabilities to tackle this long-term challenge.
Through partnerships with organizations like CPI, the United States has helped support a range of survivors' assistance programs, such as the wheelchair basketball league. The United States will continue to work with partners around the world to help eradicate the threat of landmines and UXO and aid survivors. For more information on U.S. demining efforts, check out WRA’s annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety.